Skip to main content

New Yorker Fiction Review: "The Pink House," by Rebecca Curtis

Rebecca Curtis: Good writer
Issue: June 30, 2014

Story: "The Pink House"

Author: Rebecca Curtis

Review: As part of my self-appointed quest to monitor and write about the short fiction in The New Yorker (and now Playboy; maybe The Atlantic soon, too) I find myself subjected to all sorts of stories of various forms, subject matters, and degrees of quality...which is precisely the point: to read and truly acquaint myself with a wide swath (or at least a wider swath) of the best contemporary fiction being produced. Occasionally I find myself totally un-impressed and even insulted by the poor quality of a particular story; most of the time (too much of the time) I find the story well-written but un-inspiring. Once in a while, however, I am knocked upside the head by a story (and an author) that draws me back into the short fiction reviewing game and reminds me why I do this. "The Pink House," by Rebecca Curtis, was just such a story.

First awesome thing about this story: the "meta" element. It begins at a writer's retreat on a rainy night in which the retreat's guests have been thrust together by a freak storm and are having a long, boozy dinner. If the idea of a bunch of writers eating and drinking together on a rainy night at a remote mountain writer's retreat sets your heart aflutter then you, my friend, are indeed a Writer. Not that if you DON'T find that situation mysterious and enthralling you are NOT a writer, but it just seems like the kind of thing a certain kind of person would find enjoyable. The "meta" part comes in when the main character, a young, pretty writer is egged-on to tell her story about how she lived with a man she didn't love for six years and possibly ruined his life.

I'm still at a loss to really understand why this story was so entertaining or why I couldn't stop reading it once I started, but the "meta" aspect absolutely had something to do with it. The whole story-within-a-story technique is great because you get two different effects, a.) the effect of the story the character is telling, and b.) a whole array of sub-textual elements like, why the character is telling that particular story, why the character uses certain narrative techniques or takes various asides.

Interestingly, the main character adds a lot of sexual detail into her story early on; sexual detail involving her own sex life. This could be done to entice male members of her listening, dinner party audience, or could be done to make the story itself more salacious and therefore more entertaining. Either way, it works on the page because of the double effect I mentioned above. After all, who doesn't like a like a little sex in a story?

Also one thing that, quite perversely, works in the opposite way that it usually does: the main character isn't very likable. This is usually one of my first requirements of a story; I've got to like at least something about the narrator or I get turned off and find it difficult to care about the story. This story worked, however, in spite of having a narrator that was difficult to identify with. Why? Again, I've got to plead the "meta" defense. The story-within-a-story aspect means the story isn't really "about" the narrator so much as something else...what is that something else, I don't know...but in this case the story (a ghost story, sort of) seemed more like a vehicle for conveying a certain disgust with the modern world and dissatisfaction with relationships.

There was something unsettling beneath this story, as there should be underneath all ghost stories, I suppose. Done properly, a ghost story should describe a genuine brush with the mystic, the spirit world, or at least with something beyond the human capacity to understand. This story does that, but even without the "ghost" element there's still something in Curtis' narration that made me squirm in my seat, some overriding air of doom and disgust.

Whatever it was, I hung on every word of this story like I rarely do with other fiction I read these days, in the NYer or wherever. This is a story well-worth your 30 minutes, especially for a fiction writer studying the craft. I don't care what the subject matter, form, or "point," if a story can hold my attention like this, then it's Good. Here endeth the rant.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

New Yorker Fiction Review #146: "Three Short Moments in a Long Life" by John L'Heureux

Issue: May 9, 2016

Story: "Three Short Moments in a Long Life" by John L'Heureux

Rating: $

Review: I feel like this is a somewhat tired technique, straight out of Creative Writing 101: write a story consisting of three or four different snapshots or snippets out of a character's life at different ages, sort of like a series of written photographs. Fun perhaps, but strikes me as a bit amateurish. However, I also think L'Heureux succeeds here by pushing it a bit further, playing with the character's tentative attempts at something close to faith -- in childish, adult, and mature adult ways -- and tying all three "Short Moments" together in a subtle and readily decipherable way.

L'Heureux's prose and his frank humor and his ability to glorify and find the meaning in the mundane events and thoughts of every day life, and thereby turn the life of an ordinary person into a drama with meaning and significance puts me in mind of John Irving. As well a…

New Yorker Fiction Review #151: "The Bog Girl" by Karen Russell

From the June 20 issue...

My loyal readers (if there are still any, which I doubt) will know I'm usually not a fan of Magical Realism, which, as you may also know, is Karen Russell's stock in trade. That said, there's nothing I love more than having my antipathy for magical realism shattered by an awesome story like "The Bog Girl."

Briefly, an Irish teenager discovers the body of a young woman who as been buried in a bog for over 2,000 years and begins to date her. What more do you need, right? If I'd read that one-line description somewhere else, and wasn't on a mission to review every New Yorker short story, I doubt I'd have read "The Bog Girl." But maybe I should start doing a George Costanza and do the opposite of everything I think I should do.

Where Russell succeeds here is in two main areas: 1.) Making us really love Cillian, the teenager who falls in love with the bog girl, and 2.) pulling the unbelievable trick making the characters…

Water Review: San Pellegrino 250ml Bottle

Damn you, tiny little bottle of San Pellegrino. So little. So cute. But what are you really good for other than to make me wish I had a full bottle of Pellegrino? 
Good as a palate cleanser after a nice double espresso, I will give it that. But little else. The suave yet chaotic burst of Pellegrino bubbliness is still there, but with each sip you feel the tragedy of being that much closer to the end of the bottle, that much faster.

This is a bottle of water made specifically for the frustrated, for the meticulous, for the measurers among us with a penchant for the dainty. This water does not love you in the wild, on a sunny porch or with the raucous laughter of friends. No...much the opposite. Whatever that may be.

Best drunk in tiny, tiny sips, while forcing oneself through an unreadable and depressing Russian novel one does not want to read but feels one should, on a cold, wet day in December that promises four months of gloom and depression...or in pairs or threes and poured over …